SJ Football drops opener, 42-27

Christian Felan ’23

The Strake Jesuit Crusaders Varsity Football Team opened their 2020 season last Friday, October 2, with a 27 – 42 defeat at the hands of the Panthers of C.E. King at Clay Stadium. It was an unprecedented night of high school football that was adjusted to meet current social distancing guidelines with pre-game festivities, as well as The Crusader Band and Tiger Girls Dance Team being absent from Friday’s game. However, the limited SJ fans who were able to make it inside the stadium showed their excitement and overwhelming support for our Men in Green.

The Crusaders were looking for a fresh start this year after a disappointing end to their last season with a 33 – 45 loss to the Cypress Creek Cougars in the regional round of the playoffs at NRG Stadium. Coming into the 2020 season, there were several questions surrounding our varsity roster, with the two biggest stories coming out of the backfield. Senior quarterback Connor O’Hara and junior running back Joel Crawford have arguably the biggest roles on this varsity team, and the giant shoes they will be playing in will not make it any easier. O’Hara, who was out for just about all of last season with an injury, replaces William Dickason, who led the Crusaders to the playoffs his senior year with 1336 passing yards and 12 touchdowns. O’Hara made his first start for the varsity team against King accompanied by RB Joel Crawford, who also made his debut in the starting 11. Crawford, who totaled 346 yards on 54 carries with 3 TD’s last season at second string, replaces star running back Dylan Campbell who finished top ten in Houston-area RBs, racking up 1813 rushing yards with 29 TD’s his senior year. There is no doubt that Coach Kubiak would make strategic modifications to the offensive game plan to suit O’Hara and Crawford and fit their styles and abilities. Friday’s game would be the team’s opportunity to show their SJ community that they were ready for the new year and could take their season deep into the playoffs. 

The game kicked off at 7:00 p.m., with the Crusaders receiving. As expected, the game reflected all the initial energy in the stands stored up from months of postponed football. Both the Crusaders and the Panthers would score on their opening drives with a 6-yard running TD by Crawford, disappointingly giving them their only lead of the game, and a long 2nd down run by King’s Jerrell Wimbley to tie it at 7 all. Then, after a muffed punt recovered by SJ followed by a crucial passing fumble of their own, King would capitalize with a TD pass from QB Kameron Kincheon, his first of two, to RB D’Koreion Hammond. On the next drive, the Crusaders put together a solid drive led by O’Hara and got down the field to the King goal line. However, this is where the off-season rust of a team who had not played in nearly a year began to show. A couple of O-line flags would push the Crusaders back and out of 4th down territory, forcing a made Field Goal by Junior Max Castellanos, putting the score at 10-14. The semi-successful drive would be quickly forgotten though, as King’s Kameron Scott would return the following kickoff for a Touchdown, quieting the SJ faithful as the Panthers went up 21-10. The score would remain at 21-10 for a couple of drives until around mid-second quarter when O’Hara would connect on 4th down with Wide receiver Robert Smith to bring life to the Crusaders and set the score at 21-17. However, it would be King who would get the last say before the half with a drive starting around their own 30 yard line. They commanded and controlled a tired SJ defense who had been out on the field for the majority of the game, and capped it off with a TD pass to RB Jeremy Gonzalez, putting them up 28-17 at the half. The coaches were surely encouraged to modify their game plans at halftime, with King deciding to shift focus and put their attention on RB Crawford, forcing O’Hara, who already had an interception in the game, to throw against their speedy secondary. Coach Kubiak, on the other hand, was forced to apply his defense to contain the mobile backfield possessed by King. QB Kincheon, who has 40 yards running with 2 rushing TD on the season, successfully utilized the option play in the first half, forcing the SJ defense to guess one way or the other. With all the momentum coming out of the half, as well as first possession, King picked up right where they left off, driving down the field and handing it off to Hammond for a TD to go up 17-35, shutting down an SJ defense who was surely fired up coming out of the locker room. The Crusaders were able to respond with a goal line TD of their own Ran in by Crawford to make it 24-35. However, the SJ defense just couldn’t find a way to get off the field, with King forming yet another time-consuming drive, ending in a short touchdown run by Hammond, his third TD of the game, making the score 42-24 early in the third quarter, but seemingly out of reach for the Crusaders. Now playing against both King and the game clock, SJ was able to tack on one more FG,making it 27-42, but that’s how it would finish at Clay Stadium, with the Crusaders falling to 0-1 and the Panthers climbing to 2-0. 

Despite the less than desirable outcome for Strake Jesuit on Friday, there were some promising performances that provide some hope going into the season. Connor O’Hara passed for 215 yards with a TD and an interception with Joel Crawford rushing for 134 yards on 30 carries with 2 touchdowns, providing solid yardage and a  go-to goal line puncher on the hand-off. Robert Smith would also collect 77 yards on 4 receptions with a TD, solidifying his role as O’Hara’s go-to wideout. These players among others on both sides of the ball provide Coach Kubiak with a handful of weapons to develop and utilize to their full capacity, turning this SJ football team into a serious playoff contender.

The Crusaders will play their next game this Friday, October 9, at 7:00 p.m. at Clay Stadium against the Pearland Oilers.